Money talk: Local targets on windfall hit list

Remember windfalls? In case you thought this game was all but over, further support for the view that handouts are set to roll on for some time yet has come from Bank of Ireland, which earlier this year bought Bristol & West building society.

The bank last week said it wanted to buy another building society, reaffirming its position among a small group of predators openly circling the dwindling society wagon train. That the bank still had its hat in the ring was known, but what is intriguing is that it favours a society "in a similar geographical area" to Bristol & West, ie. the South-west.

The idea seems to be that there is more to be gained business-wise from rationalising a local competitor than buying another society whose branches and business are concentrated elsewhere. This is a contrast to the standard matchmaking gossip which involves societies being eyed up as outlets for increasing distribution.

The obvious targets for Bank of Ireland/B&W are the Portman (based in Bournemouth) and the Chelsea (based in Gloucester), although they might even include some smaller local names, such as the Stroud & Swindon.

It has often been said that the best chances for windfall hunters are the big remaining societies, but Bank of Ireland's comments raise the possibility of regional "cleanouts" of smaller societies. Might the very commercially minded Northern Rock take out the Newcastle? Or the Birmingham Midshires, in the process of being taken over by Royal Bank of Scotland, swallow the West Bromwich (as it has tried to in the past)? There would appear to be less potential benefit here for big guns like the Halifax, although that did not stop it knocking out the Leeds as a prelude to its own conversion.

Conversion votes themselves will now need a 50 per cent turnout to go through, the government separately announced last week. But this is likely to prove much less of a dampener on future windfall activity than some societies would have us believe. Takeovers have long faced this voting hurdle - and have not met any problems so far. Watch this space.

Financial companies fail to appeal to women and finance is a dreadful, male-dominated world, right? For sure, these are not exactly companies that run ads of men on the receiving end of stilettoes. Even still, the slightly surprising result of a survey by Cornhill Insurance is that women, including younger ones, would still rather talk to a life insurance salesman. Men much prefer to talk to men, it says. How many people would rather not talk to life insurance sellers at all is a different question, of course.

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